A realistic action movie call

For far too long there has been a conundrum desperately in need of solution. New technology always spurs new social convention; the use of caller ID and the dissemination of cell phones have created such a vexing question–who calls back?

We’ve all been there.  You call another person’s cellphone, and it goes straight to voicemail.  Is the phone off, or is the other person trying to call me at the exact same time?  How can I ever know for sure?  This problem is particularly tough after dropped calls.

It is now time to set firm, albeit arbitrary, rules to ensure we all avoid the dreaded cross-callbacks, in which no one gets through. There are several criteria by which we determined this social convention.

  1. Call priority should not be linked to any physical or racial trait that would tend to discriminate. For example, if the tallest person is always the callback initiator, women will be disproportionally subjected to always be on the receiving end.
  2. Call priority should be easy to discern without ever having met in person. As with the first example, it is too hard to decide who the taller person would be, especially if the parties have never met.
  3. Call priority should not be based on obscure personal arcana. Two people who are in contact for the first time through this phone call should be able to determine the criterion immediately without delving into each other’s personal lives. Hence, the callback convention cannot be something like mother’s maiden name. This is not a forgotten password retrieval mechanism.
  4. Call priority should be as universal as possible. This rule is flexible, as it is premised on a universal society, which is certainly not true. Maybe a convention that covers most people within the same social group would be sufficient.

We now propose several possible metrics to determine call priority:

Alphabetical Order

This is the most common mechanism to sort people. Ideally, both parties will have each other’s full names and will be able to determine priority by last name, then first. This convention is most restricted by limited information. But if each person only knows first names, it is fine to alphabetize just based on that. And if someone is calling you anonymously, are you really so eager to call them back? Alphabetical order is limited by the last of the criteria though. Non-phonetic languages will have a difficult time following this system.  Also, don’t ever call anybody that has your exact same name.  They shouldn’t be your friend.

Numerical Order by Phone Number

Bigger number wins. Take your ten-digit phone number and compare. In many cases, callers will be from the same area code, so it’ll come to the seven-digit showdown. Major problem: blocked and restricted numbers ruin all the fun.

West-to-East Geographical Priority

First, I’ll say that I picked West somewhat arbitrarily. This is not any endorsement of the West over the East, I just read from left to right. In fact, the sun seems to favor the East more anyway. Alas, even with the proliferation of geotagging and Foursquare, you’ll rarely know enough about a caller’s physical location to use this metric. And if one day we can determine this readily, it’s time to move off the grid altogether and run from Big Brother.

Initiator Always Calls Back

I almost think this has already been the de facto standard. The person who calls usually has the most to say. Therefore, the logical progression would be that said person should also take all means to reestablish that connection. This would not work however, when two people call at exactly the same time. But how often does that actually occur?

First it’s the wait. You come in early to fill out paperwork even though they only admit you after the obligatory half hour wait past your appointment time. Finally, after reading three month old news in the dated subscriptions in the waiting room, your name is called and you walk down the hall of operating rooms. You sit down and recline on the chair, which look suspiciously like torture chambers sans restraints. After some semi-abusive scraping and prodding with very sharp metal instruments, your only consolation is that at some point they’ll run out of teeth to destroy. You wonder how the hygienists do it, look down at you while you stare back at them obviously in pain, fear, or some combination of the above.

Imagine for a moment that aliens visit Earth and encounter dentist offices. What would they think seeing the operating chairs and tools? Metal hooks and tubes, chemical abrasives, alligator clips and drills. Tools of the trade for both the dentist and the interrogator. Even worse, the dentist offices have mirrors, as if the interrogators have a sadistic desire to reflect their victims’ pains back on them. And of course there’s the omnipresent lamp that hovers above the chair. With a flick of the switch, you’re blinded and the dentist gets you to admit your deepest, darkest secrets, i.e. you really don’t floss very often. The hygienists makes sure you know how painful flossing should be as they pull out blood with what must be little chunks of your gums while admonishing you for your lack of regular oral care.

Or instead of the alien, imagine future historians. I have little doubt that doctors decades from now will look back on oral hygienic practices in this ritualistic bi-annual cleaning with horror. I’m sure in the future, all teeth maintenance will be done touch free with ultraviolet rays or something. During the violent scraping of the teeth with the occasional slip that digs the hook into the gums, I imagine myself as a giant eating my tiny victims. Their only recourse would be to attack whatever soft tissue they could find with spears and arrows. Then again, every video game scenario involving being swallowed always has the victim attacking the uvula.

Sure, oral hygiene is very important and should not be shirked. But everyone hates visiting the dentist for a reason. It shouldn’t be so unbearable.